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Other than survival, personal or otherwise, what would make death harmless? People talk about living happy and meaningful lives and not wasting the time they have, but is that all that can be said about it, select your value and strive best to have your life exemplify it, or is there a means to live - perhaps for a short time even - outside of the harm of death?

This question suggests life can be stoically perfected, but I'm a little skeptical.

Can we render death harmless to us by perfecting life, as the ancient Epicureans and Stoics seemed to think? It might seem so, for after we perfect life— assuming we can—persisting would not make life any better. Dying earlier rather than later would shorten life, but a longer perfect life is no better than a shorter perfect life, so dying would take nothing of value from us. However...


Personally, I don't think anyone should be asked not to be harmed by death, only for the life they have not to be harmed by it. One way might be to ignore our mortality. Another might be to cultivate a harmless attitude toward our mortality. Assuming these are different things, it raises questions about 'virtue' and 'life', ones I cannot answer.

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  • As Luctretius said, more or less, do not fear death, so it cannot harm you.
    – Karl
    Oct 3, 2023 at 11:22
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    – Philip Klöcking
    Oct 4, 2023 at 7:44
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    – BigMistake
    Nov 18, 2023 at 4:03

2 Answers 2

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Firstly, the quote you cite is nonsensical sophistry of the worst sort. You might just as well argue that if you can perfect the next five minutes then death would be harmless, since extending a period of perfection could not make it more perfect. Indeed, why not settle for a perfect next nanosecond, and top yourself after that, safe in the knowledge that any further extension of your life could not make it better.

Your question can be approached from several angles, since you have not clarified what you mean by harm or its objects. Leaving aside the question of harm to you, the deceased, we might consider the impact of death on those you leave behind. Your death might be a source of lasting grief or hardship if you have dependents and loved ones. However, it might equally be a benefit to those you leave behind, depending on your prior behaviour towards to them and the circumstances. Arguably your death will be of general benefit the the planet, since there are already too many humans collectively causing all kinds of harms to the environment.

As far as harm to you is concerned, notwithstanding the contrary hopes of many believers in the afterlife, all scientific reason suggests that your consciousness will be entirely snuffed out after death, so the only possible harms associated with death are the negative psychological effects of anticipating it, and any transient physical pain associated with the cause of death, since once you are dead, nothing can harm you.

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  • well i like your answer, except for how you skirt around the actual question. yes i primarily mean harm to myself, but i see no reason to further define it. anyway, i don't believe my death cannot harm me
    – user67675
    Oct 3, 2023 at 6:06
  • If you are only concerned with harm to yourself, then my second paragraph is irrelevant. Hopefully the third paragraph conveys my point- death is harmless once it has occurred. Oct 3, 2023 at 6:10
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    Many thanks. Yes, I agree entirely with that, and it was the point I was trying to make when I said that the harm of death is associated with anticipating it. We fear death because we don't want to miss out on all of the experiences we might yet have. But if I were to die suddenly now, I would no longer exist and could not, therefore, experience the loss. Oct 3, 2023 at 6:24
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    You might avoid the harms associated with the anticipation of death in several ways- one is by making the most of life, so you have fewer regrets about missed opportunities, once is by putting arrangements in place to minimise the impact on your dependents, and one is by reflecting upon the fact that if you do die you will not feel any harm or regret subsequently. Oct 3, 2023 at 6:27
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    Ha! Love the unsecured loans. Have all the banks petrified about the prospect of your passing! Oct 3, 2023 at 7:15
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Just, decide it's not a harm. Viewing it as a harm is a matter of perspective. And you can change your perspective. As they say, if you think death is the end, it's because you think the story is about you. The idea death is a harm is a construction, so you can deconstruct it, and build some other attitude to it, if you wish.

Discussed here in relation to other cultural attitudes to death, and the harms of immortality: Is Death a Feature or a Bug?

Death is not part of life, a living person does not experience it, and a dead person experiences nothing. Discussed here: “That melancholy convention cannot be persuasive.” What does this quote mean (from the Myth of Sisyphus)?

Stoicism is not simply about stoically enduring, as the caricature frames it. It's about undertaking imaginative exercises, to change your perspective. “Study death always, so that you'll fear it never” as Seneca put it. So an example:

“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?” —Marcus Aurelius

Don't just read it and nod ponderously. Actually try it. Or:

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” —Seneca

We prepare ourselves to die well, by such activities, and if we can do that death won't be a harm.

In Buddhist thought they teach meditations on impermanence, through which we actively work, by reflecting on our lives and exeriences, to recognise it is intrinsic to the nature of becoming. All arising things will pass, is both a psychological truth, and a statement of thermodynamics that reflects our deepest insight into physics. Don't live in denial only to be surprised by the inevitable.

You might also like to reflect on the story of 'This too shall pass'. What can seem oppressive or a burden, is also liberation.

"When you've made your peace, you'll see the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth."

-Meister Eckhart, though fairly outregeously paraphrased

The thing we really fear is a meaningless life, and what we fail to reflect on is what that means, outside of rewards or consequences, that when we are gone a meaningful life has to make sense like a piece of art, or music, or dance: It just needs to have been on purpose, expressing as clearly as you could who you were. You might like this answer, on how to frame what a meaningful life is in more detail, before it's inevitable end: What are some philosophical works that explore constructing meaning in life from an agnostic or atheist view?

"Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come."

-Rabindranath Tagore

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  • i think our attitudes to death can be harmless (though they need not be). not sure death can be (or should be)
    – user67675
    Oct 3, 2023 at 0:01